Movie Curiosities: The Quiet Girl
sigh I tire of the mainstream releases out right now. I wonder if there’s anything more “indie” I can sink my teeth into. What’s this? A Gaelic-language coming-of-age story? Sure, let’s give it a shot.
The Quiet Girl tells the story of Cait (newcomer Catherine Clinch), a nine-year-old girl growing up on a dirt-poor Irish farm. As the title implies, Cait is a socially withdrawn child who’s insecure to the point where she barely speaks a word. This is partly due to her embarrassing habit of bed-wetting, but it might also be a factor that she has at least three other siblings to crowd her out and give her a hard time. Oh, and her father (played by Michael Patric) is a bit of a drunken lout, can’t forget that.
Anyway, Cait’s mother (played by Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is pregnant with yet another child. Enter Eibhlín Cinnsealach and her husband Sean (respectively played by Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett), a pair of distant relations who agree to take Cait in over the summer. So that Cait stays out of the way for the pregnancy and childbirth, you see.
Oh, and Cait doesn’t have her suitcase because her father accidentally drove off with it. Did I mention that he’s kind of an idiot?
This is more or less the full extent of what passes for the plot. Eibhlin goes out of her way to make Cait feel at home, Sean barely acknowledges the girl at first but gradually warms up to her, and Cait learns to make herself at home on this new farm. Through at least two-thirds of this movie, there’s barely anything resembling a conflict or crisis.
Yet I still found myself compelled to keep watching.
A lot of that has to do with the central performances. Clinch, Crowley, and Bennett are all acting their asses off from start to finish. Their interplay is delightful to watch, gracefully and impeccably selling themselves and each other as a loving ad hoc family unit.
Which brings me to the second important point: We know from the outset that this arrangement is only temporary. Thus the closer these characters get, the more explosive it could potentially be when the bottom falls out and Cait inevitably has to go back home. It’s the perfect setup for a slow burn.
But the biggest factor might be the subtle little clues that something is off. It’s hard to explain, especially without spoiling anything, but the film is liberally sprinkled with so many weird little quirks about the Cinnsealach household. The kind of thing that might be easily brushed off in the moment, but turn out to be major clues in hindsight.
Yes, there is a third-act twist. It’s nothing explosive, nothing that sends the movie into a totally new genre or kicks the plot into gear or anything like that. But the big reveal is nonetheless crucial in that it shows how Eibhlin and Sean are taking this opportunity with Cait to work through their own internal traumas and marital problems. All while Cait is taking advantage of living in a clean household without so many extra siblings, so she can blossom under the parental care and attention she needs.
The upshot is that we have three characters who enter into a particular scenario and come out the other side as stronger, healthier, more complete people. It’s not much — in fact, it’s arguably the bare minimum for anything that might be called a story. But the filmmakers are so full-on committed to these characters and these performances that it works.
The Quiet Girl will not be for everyone. It’s a slow burn, and the film is defiantly void of any major conflict or stakes. This is exactly the kind of movie that would’ve bored me to the point of frothing rage if I had seen it when I first started reviewing movies. That said, the movie is so gracefully presented, so impeccably performed, so warm and heartfelt and gosh-darned wholesome I can’t help but be charmed by it. The film doesn’t do anything new, but it damn well does everything right. And considering the film only has a runtime of 90 minutes (though it does feel significantly longer), it’s certainly harmless enough.
What we’ve got here is the cinematic equivalent of a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea. It’s a film specifically engineered to make the viewer feel nice and comfortable without the least bit of stress. If that’s what you need, give it a look.
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